THE LAWS OF SOLON
SHORTLY after the death of Cylon and the murder of his
followers, a great many troubles came upon the city of
Athens. The people were frightened, and soon the
friends of Cylon began to whisper that the gods were
surely punishing the Athenians, and especially
Megacles, for breaking his promise.
This report spread throughout the city. The terrified
people assembled, and voted to exile Megacles and all
his family, the Alcmæonidæ. Such was the fury of
the Athenians against the archon whose crime had
brought misfortunes upon them, that they even dug up
the bones of his ancestors, and had them carried beyond
the boundary of Attica.
The city had been defiled by the crime which Megacles
had committed, and the people felt that they would
never be prosperous again until Athens had been
 but the great question was to find a man holy enough to
perform the ceremony.
After much talking, they decided to send for
Epimenides, and to ask him to purify the city.
This man, when a mere lad, once went into a cave near
his native town, and there laid himself down to sleep.
Instead of taking an ordinary nap, however, he slept
fifty-eight years, without awakening or undergoing any
change. When he came out of the cave, where he fancied
he had spent only a few hours, he was surprised to find
everything new and strange to him.
His relatives had all died, no one knew him, and it was
only after some time had passed that he found out that
he had slept fifty-eight years at a stretch. This man
was a poet of note, and, as he had enjoyed so long a
sleep, the people thought that he was a favorite of the
When the Athenians asked him to purify the town, he
came to do so; but when the ceremonies were ended, he
refused to accept any of the rich gifts which the
people offered him as reward. Instead, he humbly
begged them to give him a twig of the sacred olive tree
which they said Athene herself had planted on the
Their troubles having now ceased, the Athenians began
to think of making another and less severe code of
laws. This time they chose as lawmaker a wise man
called Solon, a descendant of the noble Codrus; and he
soon consented to tell them what to do.
Solon was a studious and thoughtful man, and had
acquired much of his wisdom by traveling, and by
learning all he could from the people he visited. He
 so much that he was called a sage, and he loved to meet
and talk with wise people.
Solon changed many of Draco's severe laws, arranged
that the farmers and poor people should no longer be
treated badly by the rich, and even took care of the
slaves. He also gave the Athenians a court of law
called Areopagus. Here there were jurymen to judge
all criminals; and here, for the first time, an accused
person was allowed to speak in his own defense.
When a man was accused of any wrongdoing, he was
brought before this jury, who sat under the open sky at
night. No light was provided, and the whole trial was
carried on in the dark, so that the jury should not be
influenced by the good or bad looks of the prisoner,
but should judge merely from what was proved about him.
If the accused person was found guilty, he was also
sentenced and executed in the dark, so that the bright
sun god, riding across the sky in his golden chariot,
should not be offended by the sad sight of a man dying
for his misdeeds.
Every citizen of Athens, whether rich or poor, was
allowed to vote; and as a salary was now paid to the
men who helped govern the city, even a man of small
means, if elected to the Tribunal, could afford to give
his time to public duties.
By Solon's order the people were encouraged to talk
matters over in public in the market place; and, as the
Athenians were fond of making speeches, many of them
became very eloquent.
Solon saw that his reforms were likely to work all
 the better if they were fairly tried, and if he were
not there to see how the people did. He therefore made
the Athenians promise to obey his laws for ten years,
and again set out on his travels.